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Graduating From Rules to Spacious Freedom

CrossOver reflection for Week 31 • Beginning July 7, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 44

Rev. Jenny Smith

You’ve likely heard of the playground experiment. A team put a fence up around a playground. Children ran all over the playground and felt free to explore. When the fence was removed, researchers noticed children gathered around their teacher and were reluctant to explore. 

Rules (and fences) can be helpful. They make us feel safe. They give us boundaries. Someone determined the rule was helpful and needed. This works. Until it doesn’t. We grow, change, ask new questions and the rules that previously gave us freedom now keep us trapped.

We’re ready for wisdom.

My dad recently retired as a United Methodist pastor and I appreciated his comment that at first it felt like his life was getting smaller. Less responsibility, fewer keys, less contact with colleagues and friends from church. But then his brother texted him two words: expansive sabbath. At the very moment that life feels like it is getting smaller, it, in fact, is opening up in a spacious wide-open way. 

Eugene Petersen puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 in The Message: “I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life…The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living in a small way…Live openly and expansively!”

It’s worth asking in stuck, tight, anxious, scarcity moments: What rules am I living by that are slowly taking my life? Am I open to some new wisdom? To receive it, I have to first believe I don’t actually know everything. And isn’t it surprising how often we find ourselves thinking we do?

McLaren puts it this way: “When we’re ready, the Spirit leads us to graduate from rule-oriented primary school to secondary school with its new emphasis: wisdom.” Wisdom is more than rule-following. It’s Spirit-leading.

To graduate from rules to wisdom, we’re invited to not simply follow a different plan. We’re invited to move in an entirely different way. We need this as individuals. We need it especially as faith communities.

A spacious community living from wisdom instead of rules asks different questions. They address their fear and dig underneath it. They resist scarcity. They practice trusting abundance.

Are there rules your community follows that don’t feel life-giving anymore? It’s helpful to name them aloud in safe group conversation spaces. You can help your faith community dig into good conversations and do courageous work to discern and name where God may be inviting you next. 

Spacious communities trust God’s wisdom is gloriously sufficient to hold us as old rules fall away. Spacious communities know grace and love will birth new ways of being beloved community together. Spacious communities do the work to grieve what is shifting. It is a kind of death. And they prepare for the resurrection!

I offer this reflection as a prayer for your local church family:

A Spacious Community

There’s room to breathe
In a spacious community

There’s space to bring 
Who you are

There’s margin to explore
A new perspective

There’s questions to ask
That could change everything

A spacious community
Doesn’t feel narrow
Confining or 

A spacious community
Breathes freedom into the
Knots of our souls

In spacious community
There is

Because a spacious community
Is fully alive
Showing up with courage
Paying attention to pain
Cooperating with Love
Releasing the assumed outcome
So that Love gets a wide-open playground
To skip, climb, slide and giggle
Its way through us all


Rev. Jenny Smith serves as pastor to Marysville United Methodist Church in the Pacific Northwest Conference. You can find more of her writing on her blog.


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